_We Were Young and Needed the Money_
( Idaho Music/Retrophonic)
rating: 5 (out of 6)
They say that those who neglect the past are doomed to repeat it, but in Idaho’s case that’s hardly a bad thing. The wittily titled _We Were Young and Needed the Money_ (sadcore? hardly!) isn’t the kind of generic best-of comp labels hastily throw together to wring a few more bucks out of their former charges, the kind of frantic back-catalog pillaging whose prized yields fund crack habits, chemical peels, coffee colonics and happy-hour lap dances. Nor is it the kind of straw-grasping scheme washed-up melody makers hatch to recapture the days (hours, even) when they weren’t bloated, pointless and flatulent. Rather, it serves as a commemoration of a decade of writing, recording, touring, label changes, addiction, recovery and occasional instances of civil disorder, a corraling of cuts lost in the _Sturm und Drang_ of a ripening career or nudged off studio outings for one reason or another. They’re seeds long ripe for germination but never planted. Now’s an apt time for them to sprout, to wriggle skyward and salute the sun, for it’s rare that Idaho’s soil has ever been more fertile.
In a sense, Idaho’s made a 360-degree turn, having begun with guitarist John Berry and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Martin, swelled into a full band, tapered down to Martin (who made the band’s last studio album, _Levitate_, virtually alone) and once again become, for all intents and purposes, a full band again (Berry has returned to the fold as both guitarist and manager of the band’s Idaho Music imprint, drummer Doug Smith came aboard last year and Dale Smith picked up the bass in time for the band’s recent European tour). And after years of generating darkly-hued swathes of dissonance, distortion and feedback from a number of custom-made four-stringed guitars with Berry, Martin’s returned to the piano, his first instrument. Like Elliott Smith and the dueling Marks (Eitzel and Kozelek), he uses music as a means of lancing psychic wounds, most rivetingly on the songs dating back to Idaho’s inaugural handful of outings (1993’s _Year After Year_ and _The Palms_ and _Drive It_ EPs, which arrived the following year). On earlier tracks like “Traces” and “Drown,” the unsung bard of the bruised soul sounds disturbingly battle-scarred, as if his heart’s done some serious time on a torture rack; that aggressive, I’m-miserable-and-nobody-gives-a-flying-fuck moroseness has since subsided into the tempered, reflective tones of recent outings like _Hearts of Palm_ and _Levitate_.
Each song on _We Were Young and Needed the Money_ marks a page in most every chapter of what’s turned out to be a staggering, if turmultuous (and, after all this time, still underappreciated) career. Some tracks echo the smoggy grunge that blanketed popular music at the time Idaho formed
and dissipated with Cobain’s gunshot (“Teeth Marks,” “Come Over”); others channel mid-’90s indie rock a la Sebadoh (“This Day”). As is the case with any
long-forgotten mystery box dragged out from beneath the bed there’s the occasional dustbunny (“Carefully Turning,” “Straw Dogs”). Still, these songs resonate with as much dynamite vibrancy as if they would if written yesterday; most if not all are as they were when they were first laid down.
It’s fascinating to imagine where the jigsaw pieces would have fit: “Nothing Wrong” continues the bittersweet guitar-and-piano interlude that closed _Hearts of Palm_ with gentle strums and tender lyrics; “A Second Chance” would’ve been as apt a finale to 1996’s _Three Sheets to the Wind_ as the aching “Get You Back” and “Stayin’ Out in Front” would’ve lightened _Levitate_’s heavier moments. There’s satisfaction in _We Were Young and Needed the Money_ not only in the sigh of relief it elicits at missing spaces finally filled in, but at a band that, after such turmoil, has finally settled on stable ground. And it only took them ten years to do it. Better late than never, guys. - Susan Moll